Billi Marie: The Traveling Poet
She was sitting alone in a loud crowded room at the Frogtown Art Walk. A pink 1950’s Royal typewriter on her lap, a sweet smile on her face and a sign that read “Free Poetry” beside her. I was immediately intrigued as I began to make way to her. I waited patiently as she finished off a poem for another person and when it was my turn I so timidly asked how this works. She said she would just look at me for a while, get a feel for me and then begin to type and so she did. She took a deep look into my soul which at first was a bit uncomfortable for me, but I could feel the good vibes emanating from her and so I let her in. Once she found what she needed, she went on and within seconds had prepared for me one of the sweetest poems anyone has written for me. I was almost in tears, deeply inspired by her braveness and love for the written word.
I went home and began my search for my own typewriter and decided that night it was time to get into my own writing. A few weeks later, low and behold, we meet again at Da Poetry Lounge in Fairfax, CA. It must have been fate. I mean, how befitting that my first article for the Fearless Leon website be on the girl that had originally inspired me to write again, a miss Billie Marie.
Billi is a poet who travels, lugging her pink typewriter beside her, handing out free poetry to strangers. She also runs her own website called Typewriterpoetry.com. We agreed to meet again at the Lit Crawl, a gathering of writers and poets alike, held in North Hollywood. See my Q&A below to get to know this amazing woman.
What originally sparked your passion for writing?
“Honestly what sparked it is reading. Ironically I’m more of a reader than I am a writer. I read all the time and so I write because I love reading . I know a lot of people write because they love writing but I’m more inclined to write because I know later on I could read it and have this sensation of Oh, I remember when I was thinking these kinds of things and I remember exactly where I was so thats why I write , because I love to read.
What inspired you to go around typing free poetry for strangers?
“When I was a kid, I used to tell stories and write poems for my brother and sister based off of prompts they gave me and I would later give them to them as presents. I first got the typewriter in 2010 or 2011, then I posted something on Facebook , something stupid like , “oh I just got my first typewriter, what should I write about?”. Someone said write a poem about dinosaurs so I typed a poem about dinosaurs in the forest, which is one of my favorite little things, but then after I did that I thought , well this would be cool to just hang out and do this for free for strangers because then its not just you in your room , its you experiencing the world and people passing by. For a long time I was afraid to do that because I wasn't used to that kind of busking, but once I got over that through friends who were telling me , ‘just come down to this art walk, set up and it will be awesome. ‘ Thats what kind of spurred it. I’m really grateful to the Canoga Park art walk because they started when I was starting and with them I've grown and branched out to other events , public spaces, traveling. So thats how that started.
What are some of the reactions you have from people who see you, good and bad?
“Bad, I think the worst thing is when people look at me kind of sketch like, is this really free? Its like they think its a trap. But pretty much all reactions are all well received. Theres kids that run by that are immediately attracted to the type writer, its this thing they have never seen, they don't even see it in movies anymore. Adults are weary, like should I go up , or should I not. Some people get really excited to see that its poetry and its free. What I hate the most is when people take out their phone and sneak a photo. Its so dehumanizing in a way, its like you’re on display, why don’t you just ask. I hate the separation because then you just become this participant in someones spectatorship instead of when its people coming together and talking and putting together a poem.
How do you feel putting yourself out there for people?
“It varies from moment to moment, and its changed even from when I first started to now, its changed completely. Now I've noticed I’m having difficulty not being jaded about connection because I‘m learning if its so easy to manufacture this connection with people who are complete strangers , then what does that mean for people who aren't strangers. So I’m going through a very existentialist crisis when it comes to the idea of relating to people outside of yourself. When I first started, the hardest thing was getting myself into a mindset of I’m literally just going to sit here and maybe nobody will come up to me and maybe it will be embarrassing and it is. You have to really focus yourself and say alright , if nobody comes up I’m going to mediate or I’m going to read. Those are the kind of oscillating feelings, otherwise its just “ oh hurray, I'm alive and you're alive and lets just do this “ poetry is reaction to me , Its not just about the words. You learn in school about structure and how you present yourself but I don't think thats poetry , I mean its an aspect of poetry and I love it but there is something in people that is wordless and if you can tap into that, its a reaction, that's the poetry. The poem is what it is , but its the experience of having this other person and saying “ wow this is life , this is raw and we are where we are.” Thats why I offer it for free. Asking for money changes that aspect in a way that you are not gonna experience that rawness of it “
Where do you hope that your writing will take you?
“I hope that it will take me into myself, but also simultaneously out of myself. That's why I want to bring typewriter poetry to a close so I don't have to get caught up in that aspect of it, since its been gaining momentum, and its becoming something on its own. People are different. People are networking with me instead of just sharing with me. I associate it with consumerism. I see it all the time, people who are monopolizing off their passions and thats something I never wanted to do and I know its naive and I know its somewhat impossible because we live in this world but I don't care, I want my passions to stay untainted by the things that corrupt us and kind of trap us in this egotistical mindset.
Its no longer ‘oh I love doing this‘, it becomes ‘oh this is who I am and I gotta get my name out there and I gotta do this‘, so with writing my hope is that it never becomes that. What I would like to say is that when I’m 80 and about to die, I can look into my closet and see huge stacks of manuscripts and little other pieces of paper and say I did this and even if nobody else knows , especially if nobody else knows I could go back read it, remember the mindset I was in when I was 25 and I was feeling this way, or when I was 12 and I didn't understand what I felt. Thats what keeps me going.”
With all that said, Billi Marie has not only inspired me to write again, but also to be okay with myself and my work. She reminded me that what we do is not for anyone else but ourselves and to try to sell is only tainting our passion.